The next morning, while Diana dreamed of nilgai steaks, our guide Clay led me still-hunting in another expanse of live oaks and mesquite thickets. This time Cabela’s Joe Arterburn tagged along, not wanting to miss the free entertainment virtually guaranteed in watching me try to shoot a nilgai with the .45-70.
Close, and a Pig
Not a hundred yards along the first sandy path cutting between the oaks, two or three bulls bolted in odd directions. None smelled or heard us; they just freaked on principle, as they do. But suddenly the brush parted and there stood one of them, stopped and standing broadside just 60 yards away. But there was a thick branch blocking the vitals, and so while Clay and Joe plugged their ears, I mulled a couple things over: On one hand, I have a .45-70, which many say does not fear thick branches. On the other, according to David Petzal, unless you’re shooting a 20 millimeter cannon, there is no such thing as a brush-bucking bullet. While I thought about this, the nilgai decided to leave the scene.
Clay, a nice guy, at least outwardly, didn’t want to come right out and tell me I should have shot. “Well,” he offered instead, “I probably tend to be a little less conservative in my shooting.” But I suspect he wasn’t overly happy because he immediately afterward led us on a six-mile forced march over soft sand between impenetrable banks of mesquite where there wasn’t the faintest hope of seeing a nilgai. Not the sort of entertainment Joe was hoping for, I suspect.
But toward the end of the journey, with the truck only like a mile and half away, we saw something up ahead. What I’d wanted most from this trip was to just shoot some meat–any meat–with this crazy-cool gun. And right now some very tasty and not-too-bright meat was crossing the road.
We followed the band of pigs into woods. They had no idea we were there, so we took our time and waited for a good shot. When I got on the sticks, I even remembered to hold the fore-end down as Diana had suggested, and bang–bacon.
Not Close, and a Nilgai
After lunch, we headed back out for nilgai, but this time to a more open part of the ranch where spreading, open pastures were dotted everywhere with oak-thicket islands called motts. This was spot-and-stalk country–but again, not from the truck. Driving into this area, it became obvious that there’s nothing a nilgai fears more than an F350. Any animal seen from the vehicle was on a streaking, dusty, dead-run for the cover of a mott.
Throughout the afternoon, we blew several more stalks. But more often, we just shook our heads at the sound of nilgai hurtling away from us no matter how perfect the wind or how quietly we stalked. Getting .45-70-close would be tough. But then we spotted several cows in a small opening surrounded by oak thickets. Perfect. After a long stalk to the edge of the oaks, Clay peered through an opening, set up the sticks, and motioned me over.
Right there, big as a horse, stood a tawny cow nilgai, broadside and oblivious at just 60 paces. Just what we’d been working so hard for. Easy-peasy. A total gimme. Can’t miss.
“You missed,” said Clay.
The cow trotted away, head up, tail wagging, pretty as you please.
“Impossible!” I shouted. “Not feasible! It can’t be!” But sure enough, no blood, no hair. Nothing.
This I’m sure was more the sort of entertainment Joe was expecting. And so, now satisfied and grateful, he offered me an excuse.
“You forgot to hold the fore-end down.”
It was a kindness, and tempting. But this was such a spectacular whiff that I hated to spoil it. There are only a handful of people that can pull off a miss like that, you know.
I hung my head all the way back to the truck (a familiar feeling this season for some reason), but when I finally looked up, out across a long open flat, there stood a glowing blue beast, plain as can be, all lit up and reflecting the long rays of the evening sun. I handed Joe the .45-70 and grabbed the scoped Sako 85 Finn Bear .30-06 he’d brought, just in case.
We made a long stalk to the back edge of the oak mott. The bull was just off the front side. So we began slipping around, when out from the low-hanging oak branches sprang a half dozen whitetails that noisily scattered themselves out across the pasture.
Clay threw up his hands. That was it, he figured. No chance the bull stuck around. Too late for another stalk. No nilgai for me.
Then he opened the sticks suddenly and waved me over.
“You’ll have to be quick,” he said. The bull had run 200 yards across open ground toward another oak mott, but instead of plunging into it, he stood at the edge, looking back at us. I shot as soon as the crosshairs looked good.
“You got him,” Joe said, and Clay, searching with binoculars into the oaks where the bull had bolted, finally confirmed, “He’s down.”
If you follow this blog, you know that I mostly bowhunt whitetails on a mix of farmland and big woods in New York, except in the late season when I take a rifle into the Adirondacks to look for a wilderness buck. So I’ll admit that I had some preconceived notions about what a Texas exotic-species hunt would be like.
But I was totally wrong.
I’m still not going to try hot yoga or a colonic, and I don’t suggest you do either. But I can heartily recommend a nilgai hunt in South Texas.
For more information: A Texas nilgai hunt is quite affordable, comparatively speaking. The daily guide fee is $750 and the harvest fees are $1,000 for a bull and $300 for a cow. Click here for details.